This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Faces in the water by Janet Frame

Faces in the water (original 1961; edition 1961)

by Janet Frame

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4351336,988 (4.04)50
Title:Faces in the water
Authors:Janet Frame
Info:New York : G. Braziller, 1961.
Collections:Your library
Tags:women authors, fiction

Work details

Faces in the Water by Janet Frame (1961)


Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

No current Talk conversations about this book.

» See also 50 mentions

English (12)  Italian (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
molti che sono primi saranno ultimi e molti che sono ultimi saranno i primi " [ Mt 19,3-30 ]
ma cosa si puo' mai scrivere se non questa citazione dopo aver letto un'opera del genere??
Perchè ognuno di quei volti ricordati dalla Frame ha avuto quel destino di vita? Lo saprà Dio perchè, di fronte a tanto dolore e devastazione niente viene come risposta.....
piccola perla preziosa questo libro ( )
  Mandane75 | Nov 16, 2018 |
molti che sono primi saranno ultimi e molti che sono ultimi saranno i primi " [ Mt 19,3-30 ]
ma cosa si puo' mai scrivere se non questa citazione dopo aver letto un'opera del genere??
Perchè ognuno di quei volti ricordati dalla Frame ha avuto quel destino di vita? Lo saprà Dio perchè, di fronte a tanto dolore e devastazione niente viene come risposta.....
piccola perla preziosa questo libro ( )
  Mandane75 | Nov 16, 2018 |
Best for: People who enjoy her style of writing, I’m guessing.

In a nutshell: Istina is mentally ill and being ‘treated’ at an in-patient facility. For nine years.

Worth quoting:
“Later, the same nurses will become impatient with their charges; but at first they are full of sympathy.”
“Few of the people who roamed the dayroom would have qualified as acceptable heroines, in popular taste; few were charmingly uninhibited eccentrics.”

Why I chose it: I’ve been having a hell of a time finding a book for the “Birthday” square. I kind of wish I’d kept looking.

I’d not heard of Ms. Frame prior to picking up this novel, but she is a much-celebrated author from New Zealand. If this book is representative of her work, then I can definitely not count myself as a fan. The book follows Istina from one in-patient facility to another and back again, seeing it through her eyes as she deals with hallucinations, being moved to different wards without understanding why, being given ECT, and being scheduled for a lobotomy.

There are moment in this book that are so frustrating, such as when Istina describes the nurses ‘caring’ for patients who are in an especially challenging situation, as instigating fights just to see what the patients will do. Treating them as zoo animals or, perhaps more aptly, fighting dogs. It’s also so sad, but unsurprising, to read of the doctors who make only the occasional appearance in the lives of the patients. No one is really getting therapy or treatment — they are just housed like cattle, kept away from the rest of society without getting much beyond food and shelter.

This is a novel, but it is likely pulled from Ms. Frame’s own life, as she entered in-patient treatment multiple times over nearly a decade, even publishing her first book while a patient. So I cannot speak to whether this is an amazing example of writing about what it is like as a patient with mental illness, but I can say that it was challenging to read. Ms. Frame (or perhaps Istina?) seems to abhor the comma, so sentences at times wander. Again, I couldn’t tell if this was an affect of the main character or if this is just how Ms. Frame writes. If it’s the former, I’m sure it serves a literary function; if it’s the later, it just seems pretentious.

Obviously Ms. Frame was a celebrated author, so I can’t say that this is a BAD book. It is just not one I enjoyed, nor is it one I would recommend. ( )
  ASKelmore | Aug 26, 2018 |
This novel completely blew me away. I haven’t read Janet Frame before – I had heard of her famous autobiography An Angel at my Table – though I can’t say I knew the name of Janet Frame in connection with it. I feel as if I should have done – because Janet Frame’s own story is extraordinary – and rather terrifying. New Zealand writer Janet Frame spent years being admitted to psychiatric hospitals where she was treated with ECT and insulin. While she was still a patient in hospital, Janet Frame’s first collection of short stories was published, and won a prestigious award. The news of the award led to her doctors cancelling her scheduled lobotomy, I just shudder at what would have happened to this wonderfully talented woman had not that news filtered through. Frame was eventually discharged from hospital – and went on to enjoy a long and prolific writing career, she left New Zealand for some years and travelled in Europe and the US. While in London Frame was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and her psychiatrist encouraged her to keep writing.

Faces in the Water, the second of Frame’s novels, takes us to the world of New Zealand’s psychiatric wards. It is really quite dazzling; Frames prose is perfect. This heavily autobiographical novel has difficult themes, telling the painful stories of women like Frame. Yet, somehow, I didn’t find it a difficult novel to read, a lot of it is shocking and rather disturbing – but somehow it manages to be a compelling and even enjoyable read.

Istina Mavers is the narrator of this novel, a young woman and former teacher who has lost her sense of herself, and her grip on reality. Istina finds herself in Cliffhaven – a psychiatric hospital.

“And at times I murmured the token phrase to the doctor, ‘When can I go home?’ knowing that home was the place where I least desired to be. There they would watch me for signs of abnormality, like ferrets around a rabbit burrow waiting for the rabbit to appear.”

Here she is surrounded by other patients, introduced to the often frightening routines and rules and subject to the vagaries of those supposed to be caring for her. Here, Frame reproduces the sense of powerlessness and fear endured by patients on a daily basis, brilliantly.

Each morning Istina and the other patients wait anxiously to see whether they will be called in to breakfast – or instead selected for the terrifying ECT treatment. The fear of this horrific treatment is quite palpable. Almost like a prisoner granted an exercise period, Istina walks in the grounds, glimpsing the world beyond, a world she no longer feels a part of.

“We stood at the gate, considering the marvel of the World where people, such is the deception of memory, did as they pleased, owned furniture, dressing tables with doilies on them and wardrobes with mirrors; and doors they could open and shut and open as many times as they chose; and no name tapes sewn inside the neck of their clothes; and handbags to carry, with nail files and make-up; and no one to watch while they were eating and to collect and count the knives afterwards and say in a frightening voice, ‘Rise, Ladies.’

In time Istina is discharged and she goes North to stay with her sister, brother-in-law and their children. However, it isn’t long before Istina is back in hospital – this time the hospital is Treecroft – with different rules, different ways of doing things, but always the same fear – that you are one of those who will never go home.

“And the days passed, packing and piling themselves together like sheets of absorbent material, deadening the sound of our lives, even to ourselves, so that perhaps if a tomorrow ever came it would not hear us; its new days would bury us, in its own name; we would be like people entombed when the rescuers, walking about in the dark waving lanterns and calling to us, eventually give up because no one answers them; sometimes they dig and find the victims dead.”

Later, following a short period back home, Istina is back where she started at Cliffhaven – years have gone by, and it seems as if her whole world has been that of a psychiatric ward where others make crucial decisions for her. Here Istina first hears that her doctors are considering the operation – the leucotomy (aka lobotomy) – and she is terrified. All around her nursing staff talk brightly of the wonders of the changed personality. She will be able to leave hospital get a job – yet Istina remembers those taken out the back doors to the mortuary, or left shells of their former selves.

Faces in the Water is an extraordinary novel, written in lyrical, luminous prose it is honest, heart-breaking and raw. I think it is wonderful that Virago have brought out this new edition of this novel – I urge everyone to read it. ( )
1 vote Heaven-Ali | May 28, 2018 |
This semi-autobiographical look into NZ mental institutions moved between artful inner monologues and straightforward descriptions of patient abuses. Character vignettes of patients took the focus from the narrator's experiences and dissipated some of the dread. ( )
  xicohtli | Jul 20, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 12 (next | show all)
no reviews | add a review

» Add other authors

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Frame, Janetprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mantel, HilaryIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McCauley, ChristineCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Preis, Annikasecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sligter, May vanTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Series (with order)
Canonical title
Original title
Information from the Dutch Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to your language.
Alternative titles
Original publication date
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
To R. H. C.
First words
They have said that we owe allegiance to Safety, that he is our Red Cross who will provide us with ointment and badges for our wounds and remove the foreign ideas the glass beads of fantasy the bent hairpins of unreason embedded in our minds.
Fear no more the heat of the sun,
Nor the furious winter's rages...

No exorciser harm thee
Nor no witchcraft charm thee.
Ghost unlaid forbeare thee.
Nothing ill come near thee.

- William Shakespeare, Cymbeline
At the top of the house the apples are laid in rows
And the skylight lets the moonlight in and those
Apples are deep-sea apples of green.

- John Drinkwater, Moonlit Apples
Where there's a rainbow on the river
You get the feeling
Romance is stealing
Right out of the blue into your heart.

- Paul Francis Webster, Rainbow on the River
There is a green hill far away
Without a city wall
Where the dear Lord was crucified
Who died to save us all.
Bright shines the sun on creatures mortal,
Men of their neighbors become sensible,
In solitude for company.

- W. H. Auden, Lauds
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Publisher series
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English


Book description
'I was now an established citizen with little hope of returning across the frontier; I was in the crazy world, separated now by more than locked doors, and barred windows from the people who called themselves sane.'
Istina Mavet descends through increasingly desolate wards to Lawn Lodge, where patients are considered beyond hope, and a leucotomy the only method of rehabilitation. Istina observes her fellow patients, long disregarded by hospital staff, with humour and compassion, and reveals an original and questioning mind.
Haiku summary

No descriptions found.

"In Faces in the Water (first published in 1961), Janet Frame responded to her doctors suggestion that as I was obviously suffering from the effects of my long stay in hospital in New Zealand, I should write my story of that time to give me a clearer view of the future. This writing evolved into an intensely imagined, fictionalised account in which the protagonist, Istina Mavet, moves in and out of mental hospitals, facing the terrors of electric-shock treatment and the threat of a leucotomy."--Provided by publisher.

Quick Links

Popular covers


Average: (4.04)
1 1
2 1
3 12
3.5 3
4 37
4.5 7
5 18

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.


About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 137,329,643 books! | Top bar: Always visible